As US Supreme Court Guts EPA Power, NYS Goes on a Highway Expansion Binge

New York State wants to make roadways better for drivers.
New York State wants to make roadways better for drivers.

Don’t just blame the Supreme Court for failing to protect the environment.

The state Department of Transportation currently has 24 highway- or road-widening projects under way or planned around the Empire State, a chilling reminder that the SCOTUS ruling preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon emissions is not the only recent move that fails to protect Americans from climate change.

Here they are — your statewide highway projects. Graphic: NYS DOT
Here they are — your statewide highway projects. Graphic: NYS DOT

The total cost of the 24 ongoing and planned projects is $1.23 billion. Nowhere on the state’s project description page are the deleterious environmental impacts of those 24 highway projects even mentioned. Instead, the state refers to them as “safety” projects. Also left unsaid is that all residents of New York State now have a constitutionally protected right to “clean air and water, and a healthful environment.” (A full list of the current projects is at the bottom of this story.)

But if you know where to look (and have endless time, like reporters do, to dive into the data), you learn that the impacts of these projects are significant. The ongoing $1-billion widening of the Van Wyck Expressway, for example, will, according to the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, increase PM2.5 particulates in the air by 14 percent and the affect of traffic noise will be “adverse.” (All to reduce the travel time from the Kew Gardens Interchange to Kennedy Airport by eight to 15 minutes — an optimistic prediction given the fact of induced demand.) The report also claims that the widened roadway and service road will have fewer crashes — if some key pedestrian crossings are eliminated.

And all of the projects promise to increase vehicle capacity.

And this is why environmentalists and transit advocates are calling out Gov. Hochul for her failure to rein in her own state transportation agency.

“With federal climate action restricted by the Supreme Court, New York’s governor and mayor must do more to stop climate change to set a global example and protect New Yorkers from extreme heat and floods,” Riders Alliance spokesman Danny Pearlstein said in a statement. “With excess driving a huge contributor to New York’s carbon footprint, state and local leaders must leverage our extensive public transit network like never before.

“Gov. Hochul must fund more frequent bus and train service, divert federal infrastructure funds from state highway expansion to transit reliability and accessibility, and implement congestion pricing as quickly as possible.”

That’s not to say all the state’s projects are boondoggles or won’t improve safety — nor ignore that there are scores of other state projects that improve greenways and seek to mitigate the racist impact of prior highway projects (like this one in Buffalo). Nor is the list below meant to suggest that the state is currently wasting more money now than it has in the past. But the list below does show that in the middle of a climate emergency — one that will get no help from the Supreme Court of the United States — it’s just business as usual at the New York State Department of Transportation.

“These two dozen projects show that New York State DOT is in full climate-change-denial mode,” said Eric McClure, the executive director of StreetsPAC. “The money being poured into road expansions would make a significant difference to the woefully underfunded public-transit systems across the state, helping to get more people out of the cars that these wasteful projects might speed up by a few seconds here and there. The nearly $1 billion public funds being invested in widening the Van Wyck Expressway would better be spent making the JFK Air Train free for the next five years. Trying to widen our way out of gridlock or the impending climate disaster is an exercise in futility, and New Yorkers deserve better.”

Liam Blank of Tri-State Transportation Campaign was equally outraged:

“Widening highways to incentivize more driving during a climate emergency is absolute insanity,” he said. “Our elected leaders are great at talking the talk, but are failing miserably at walking the walk. The state should be investing only in sustainable transportation, including regional rail, subways, and buses. Expanding access to JFK airport is a worthwhile endeavor, so why not explore proposals like the QueensLink, which would create a new subway connection with Queens?”

Here’s a full list of the current projects:

  • Add a left turn lane on southbound Coram Mount Sinai Road at the intersection with Route 25 in Brookhaven in Suffolk County and add a through lane on the eastbound direction of Route 25 at this intersection, which involves widening Route 25. ($7,000,000)
  • Widening Glen Cove Road in North Hempstead to provide “an additional left turn lane.” ($7,300,000)
  • Widening Hospital Road bridge over Route 27 in Brookhaven in Suffolk County to “accommodate the need for increased capacity.” ($22,782,602)
  • Widening intersection and add turning lanes on Edwards Avenue at Route 25 in Riverhead in Suffolk County ($5,500,000)
  • Widen Exit 15N (Corona Avenue northbound) ramp to accommodate both the northbound and southbound traffic in Huntington in Suffolk County. ($6,500,000)
  • Six separate line items for “minor pavement repairs and widening” in Nassau and Suffolk counties.” The projects, at $6 million each, have no specifics beyond improvements for drivers and will run through 2032. It is unclear if these items are some kind of road slush fund. ($36,000,000)
  • Widening at Route 101 and Port Washington Boulevard in North Hempstead in Nassau County; at Route 25 at Sweet Hollow Road and Charles Road in Huntington in Suffolk County; and at Route 25 at Parker Road in Riverhead. ($6,500,000)
  • Widening at Route 25 at Community Drive in North Hempstead; Route 109 at Main Street in Oyster Bay in Nassau County; Route 25 at Harned Road in Smithtown in Suffolk County; Route 25A at Nissequoque River Road in Smithtown; Route 25 at Oaklawn Avenue in Southold in Suffolk County. ($4,600,000)
  • “Corridor improvements” including “widening” and “addition of an eastbound climbing lane” on Route 5S between County Road 27 to the Hill Market facility entrance in Florida in Montgomery County. ($6,500,000)
  • Replaces the Route 386 bridge over Black Creek (ironically known as the “James E. Widener Memorial Bridge”) in Chili in Monroe County. ($4,850,000)
  • Widening for additional lanes at the intersections of I-390 ramps and Route 383 in Chili. ($2,400,000)
  • Widening to provide new shoulders on Route 270 from North French Road to the Erie County Line in Amherst. ($4,550,000)
  • Reconstructing and widening the intersection of US Route 62 and NYS Route 429 in Wheatfield to include a left-turn lane. ($12,000,000)
  • Reconstructing and widening US Route 62 to provide a consistent pavement section with two travel lanes in each direction. ($14,000,000)
  • Widening the shoulder on 0.72 miles of Route 28 in Meredith in Delaware County. ($2,387,777)
  • Replacing deteriorated elements on the Shore Parkway bridge over Shell Road and MTA-NYCTA subway yards in Brooklyn. “This project will also study the feasibility of widening the Shore Parkway bridge.” ($110,000,000)
  • Replacing the Bronx River Parkway over the Metro North tracks to “enhance safety of the traveling public.” The project also involves “widening of the northbound Bronx River Parkway and the improvement of the existing highway features … for vehicular safety.” ($64,365,000)
  • Extending the northbound Cross Bronx Expressway fourth lane from Exit 9 to Exit 11 by widening the northbound Cross Bronx Expressway stone-faced bridge over Hutchinson River Parkway. ($28,000,000)
  • Widening the Van Wyck Expressway from three to four lanes (and five at some locations) in each direction from Queens Boulevard to 133th Avenue near John F. Kennedy Airport. ($900,000,000)

Streetsblog reached out to Gov. Hochul’s office and will update this story if we hear back.

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